Laminate cabinets have smooth surfaces to which paint may not bond well. As such, you have to prepare the surfaces before painting by cleaning them with a solvent to remove dirt and grease, sanding them to help paint adhesion and cleaning them again to remove the sanding dust. You have to use paint primer and paint with good bonding qualities to ensure that the paint job lasts.
Laminate cabinets need a coat of good primer before the actual paint to help the paint bond with the laminate surface. This Old House recommends using a solvent-based primer that comes in a spray bottle. You can also obtain a primer that has been specially formulated for use on laminate surfaces. After the primer fully cures, sand the cabinet surfaces again, and wipe them down to remove the sanding dust. The amount of time primer needs to completely cure depends on the product, with solvent-based primers curing faster than water-based primers.
Latex or water-based paint works well on laminate cabinets if you use a good primer. But before it fully cures, the paint remains sticky and may peel off easily if two painted surfaces bump against each other. With a water-based primer underneath. latex paints may take one to four weeks to cure. With a solvent-based primer, latex paints take one week or less to fully cure. To help minimize stickiness, apply a thin layer of cooking oil on parts of the cabinets that touch other painted laminate surfaces.
Alkyd or solvent-based paint creates a hard finish on laminate cabinets, allowing for easy cleaning, which is especially useful if the laminate cabinets are located in hard-working areas of the house, such as the kitchen. Ask the Builder recommends using an epoxy-modified alkyd paint, which usually comes in a spray bottle, so you need to have some painting skills to apply it correctly. Practice on scrap laminate surfaces or hidden parts of the laminate cabinets before you cover all the cabinets with paint.
Some paints have been specially designed to adhere well to laminate surfaces and require no primer underneath. Using such a paint saves you time, but you may not easily find this 2-in-1 product. It is usually labeled as a specialized cabinet or furniture paint for laminate surfaces. Ask the staff at your local home improvement store to find out whether the store carries this product. When using it, you may sand the laminate surfaces first, but applying primer may actually produce inferior results.